PUC sends engineering, social work students to aid underdeveloped communities

Maysa Mustafa

Projects with Underserved Communities, a course unique to UT, teaches various groups of engineering and social work students to create social projects before implementing them internationally in summer 2019.

PUC, which launched in 2010, is a year-long course that gives Cockrell of School of Engineering and Steve Hicks School of Social Work students an option to take on a project in either Thailand, Mexico or India. The PUC Team Thailand #1 is helping the Ban Thap Ta Thaen elementary school by building a kitchen.  

“Every team has a majority of engineering students, but they’ll have one social work student who is probably the most pivotal person in the team dynamic,” said Margaret Norman, mechanical engineering junior and
Thailand #1 Team member. 

The social work team member on PUC Team Thailand #1, senior Madison Hilgers, said she uses her social work background to help with the more interpersonal aspects of the project.

“I’m in charge of communication between our (non-governmental organization) contacts in Thailand and within our team,” Hilgers said. “I also provide awareness of the cultural stuff just so we can make sure that we are going to be respectful and aware of social justice issues like poverty and separate families.” 

Although there are professors and advisers, the project is driven mostly by the students.

“There are a lot of initiatives you have to take,” chemical engineering senior Andres Sanchez-Paiva said. “You have to find your own advisers, contractors and resources all on your own.”

The team members use the fall semester to plan the logistics of the project and the spring semester to design the project itself before they head out to their designated country in the summer.

“This semester, we are mainly focused on defining the project scope and understanding the community’s needs,” Norman said. “We are trying to raise $15,000. A lot of it is through HornRaiser, which opens on Nov. 2, but we can raise a little bit outside of that.”

PUC will have a profit share at Cold Cookie Company tomorrow. Norman said PUC gives students a platform and the professional experience to leave a lasting positive change on a community in need.

“It’s going to give us the study abroad experience, but we actually get to impact the community,” Norman said. “We get to see other areas of engineering that we wouldn’t see within our major.”